Sunday, January 08, 2012

Zelienople Municipal Airport (KPJC) begins first steps of improvement.

After years of negotiation and argument, site work has begun on an ambitious plan to expand the Zelienople Airport.

This first tangible step -- earth moving -- followed an agreement between the Western Butler County Authority and the Zelienople Airport Authority to provide public sewerage to the site. The WBCA is a sewerage authority that oversees service to Zelienople, Harmony, Lancaster and Jackson.

The airport authority was created by Zelienople officials, although all but a couple of the airport's 400 acres are in Franklin, Beaver County, just over the Butler County line. The airport authority had asked the sewerage authority to extend service to the airport.

But, the sewerage authority had determined that an extension of service beyond its original territory would require approval of all the member municipalities. And Lancaster was refusing because of its disappointment with the sewerage authority for not extending public sewers throughout Lancaster as its municipal officials desired.

The airport authority had launched a federal court battle that was rendered moot because, as Zelienople councilman and airport authority member Russell Robertson put it: "The sewer authority finally saw it our way and now we expect lines to be run by spring."

Now, the project is rolling. Its scope is ambitious and ranges from runway widening to road building to hangar replacement. "And we'll get rid of the Port-o-Johns," Mr. Robertson commented with glee.

Members of the airport authority envision the Zelienople Airport as an economic generator that will service the growing corporate hub of nearby Cranberry.

But, that vision has competed with worries by longtime airport users who worry that their leases will increase in cost; concerns by Beaver County residents who fear they'll be forced to give up their private septic tanks and forced to tap into a public sewer system; and Lancaster officials who don't want to see service expanded to a new municipality when there are service gaps in the sewerage authority's existing service area.

Mr. Robertson said he's confident that, in the end, users and neighbors of the airport will benefit from the planned improvements. "This is a good thing for everyone," he said.

The airport authority has a federal Bureau of Aviation grant for about $300,000 that Mr. Robertson believes will be matched by private investment and another approximate $300,000 is already being tapped into for the site work and pending utility work.

So far, the work encompasses rough grading and has been ongoing weather-permitting for a month. "We're knocking down trees and reconfiguring the elevation of the land. It's exciting to see it moving finally," Mr. Robertson said.

He said the goal is to keep the project moving along, "paying as we go." There's no estimate for the overall project cost or time frame for completion.


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